Atlanta, Ga. (August 19, 2013) – When Denise Widzgowski found she had trouble catching her breath after walking up a flight of stairs, she knew something was wrong. Immediately, she consulted with her doctor and test results revealed she had a weakening heart that would leave her in need of a heart transplant at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital just months after she was diagnosed with idiopathic cardiomyopathy.
“I learned that the entire left side of my heart wasn’t functionally properly,” said Widzgowski. “There were no blockages or any other reason we could determine. My heart just went bad and after that, my whole life was turned upside down.”
Her diagnosis meant Widzgowski, who loved her job as a store manager for Loft, could no longer work. Medication was the first treatment she turned to but by late 2012, both Widzgowski and her cardiologist at Piedmont Heart of Snellville, Markus Porkert, M.D., knew it was not enough.
“When Dr. Porkert referred Denise to the heart transplant program here at Piedmont, we knew that the medications simply weren’t doing what they needed to for her,” said Nirav Raval, M.D., Piedmont Heart. “It was clear Denise needed a heart transplant and so, we started the evaluation process to see if she was eligible.”
On June 6, just a month and a half after being placed on the transplant list, Widzgowski received the call from Piedmont Atlanta to tell her they had a heart. The whole experience, Widzgowski said, was surreal. One minute she was living life normally and the next, she was getting a heart transplant.
“Because I know my body, I knew something was wrong the day I couldn’t catch my breath going up the stairs,” said Widzgowski, who credits her survival to being aware of her subtle symptoms and seeking medical care promptly. “It is so important to pay attention to what your body is telling you and you can’t ignore it when something doesn’t feel right.”
Signs and symptoms of cardiomyopathy include shortness of breath or trouble breathing, fatigue and swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, abdomen and veins in the neck.
“As women, we’re often too busy taking care of everyone else that we don’t notice something is going on with ourselves,” said Widzgowski. “We’re aware of breast cancer but not anything else that threatens our health. Heart disease is the number one killer of women, yet how many really know about it?”
It is estimated that one in nine women will get breast cancer in their lifetime. Yet, one in three women will have heart disease in her lifetime, according to the Metro Atlanta American Heart Association.
As of today, 3,539 people across the United States are waiting list candidates for a heart transplant, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Of those, 57 are Georgia residents. One of the goals of the heart transplant program at Piedmont Atlanta is to keep as many donor hearts in Georgia as possible, as nearly 300 were given to transplant recipients in other states over the last decade.
For more information on heart health or to evaluate your risk for heart disease, visit piedmontheart.org.